Yad VaShem and the Israeli National Museum

When I plan a trip to Israel, there are certain dates I check in order to avoid problems in Jerusalem. For example, it is very difficult to move a large group around on Jerusalem Day. But one date I have not checked in the past is 27 Nisan, Yom HaZikaron laShoah ve-laGvura, the Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day. But as it happens, I scheduled a visit to the Yad VaShem, Israel’s Holocaust museum. Other than a delay for the Prime Minister’s motorcade (“wave to Bibi” our driver said), our only inconvenience was not visiting Mount Herzl (closed for some official visit, we were told).

As we were waiting to enter the museum, all of the sirens in the city began at exactly 10:00 and we all stood in silence for two  minutes to remember the victims of the Holocaust. It was an eerie moment, but fitting for our experience in the Yad VaShem museum.

I have visited the museum many times, but this is the first time I have used the self-guiding audio players. I highly recommend it, although if you intended to listen to it all it would add several hours to your visit. I try to point students into certain directions, especially to the display on the role of anti-Semitic Christianity in the rise of Nazism. This was terrible theology and not at all the teaching of the Bible, yet people justified pure evil by appealing selectively to a few verses badly interpreted.

The museum is designed to physically represent the descent into the horrors of the Holocaust. The story is told through pictures and film documenting the beginnings of the anti-Jewish attacks in Germany and elsewhere. Many displays have video interviews with survivors which are (for me) challenging to watch without physically breaking down. In fact, I was standing next to one of our group and I heard her sob as she watched a film of people being loaded on to a train bound for a death camp. Several of my students said they were overwhelmed by the things they saw in the Yad VaShem.

After lunch we visited the Israel National Museum. There are three main things to see at this museum for biblical studies (the focus of this trip). First is model of Jerusalem in the first century. This model used to be at the Holy Land Hotel but was moved to this museum a few years ago. Although someone might raise a minor objection to nearly every detail of the model, it is extremely helpful for visually seeing the whole city as it might have appeared in the first century. Several of my students considered this the highlight of the museum since they are “visual learners.”

The second highlight of the museum is the Shrine of the Book, where the Dead Sea Scrolls are presented. There are a series of displays illustrating how the scrolls were found and some artifacts from Qumran, but the main room has examples of several types of scrolls found int eh caves at Qumran. These include Scripture (a few panels from the Great Isaiah scroll were on display), several apocryphal books (including the Genesis Apocryphon), and several of examples of the literature created by the Essenes (the Temple Scroll, the Habakkuk Pesher and the Thanksgiving Scroll). The Shrine of the Book also has a small display for the Aleppo Codex, the oldest Hebrew Bible in book form (just slightly older than the Leningrad Codex). If you visit the Shrine of the Book be sure to go down the stairs and see this display. There is a new (to me) display just outside the Shrine of the Book with pictures from the original excavation of Qumran (with several color pictures I had never seen before.

The third highlight is the archaeological wing of the museum. This section alone could take several hours to fully digest, we were only able to see some of the highlights. The Tel Dan inscription is on display and there are several inscriptions from the Second Temple. There is a fragment of the warning to Gentiles to stay out of the Jewish section of the temple courts, the so-called Trumpeting Stone which indicated where a priest sounded a trumpet from the Temple Mount, and the Theodotus Inscription.

Two other items should be mentioned because of their connection to the crucifixion of Jesus. Discovered in 1990, the Caiaphas Ossuary is an ornate bone box inscribed “Joseph, son of Caiaphas.” The bones belong to a 60-year-old male, likely the Caiaphas mentioned in the New Testament. In the same corner of the display is an ankle bone from a crucified man. Normally the Romans would not want the nail to pass through bone since it is more difficult to remove and reuse the nail for another crucifixion. In this case, the ankle was entombed along with the nail and later placed in a bone box for secondary burial. Although no one would doubt the Romans crucified many people, this is the only archaeological evidence of a person who was crucified and then buried.

Tomorrow we will start at the top of the Mount of Olives and work our way across the Kidron Valley and up to the City of David and finally to the Southern Temple excavations at the Davidson Museum.

The Old City of Jerusalem

As most tours of Israel must do, we started with a very long travel day. Very Long. We left Grand Rapids about 3:30. The bus ride was smooth and we had no traffic or weather delays (which is unusual), passed through security quickly and with no hassles (also quite unexpected). Our Lufthansa flight had a layover in Frankfurt and the connection to Tel Aviv was delayed. Bottom line, we ended up and the Leonardo Hotel in Jerusalem after 1AM. The staff at the Leonardo was very accommodating and laid out a nice snack for us even though the kitchen was long closed by the time we arrived.

Fortunately our guide was flexible and we delayed our first day’s activities until 10AM. Most people had a good night’s sleep, some a little two good and we had to pound on a few doors. We did a quick drive around the Old City, visiting the overlook at Mount Scopus. We walked through the Jaffa Gate and made our way through the Armenean Quarter to Zion Gate to visit the Upper Room and the Tomb of David. Neither of these sites are particularly authentic, but the whole area around the Church of the Dormition has been refurbished. Although we did not visit the church, it was until recently known as Abbey of Hagia Maria Sion and commemorates the the location of Mary’s death. Other than several very large groups jockeying for position the students enjoyed the view from the rooftop over the Kidron. The day was clear enough to see the outline of the Herodium, that is not always possible.

We then walked into the Jewish Quarter to see the Byzantine Cardo. This is the Roman street which was discovered after the Six-Day war. Compared to other Roman cities, this main street through the city is on at all well preserved, but they have set up some art to give us an idea of what it might have looked like. From there we walked over to the viewing point for Hezekiah’s wall. Only a small part is exposed, but this is the wall Hezekiah built before the Assyrian invasion (2 Kings 18; Nehemiah 3:8; Isaiah 22:9-10). After lunch (falafel for me) we walked down to the  Western Wall Plaza. For those who have been to Jerusalem, the viewpoint about halfway down the stairs is closed for repair; the large menorah has been moved up into the plaza in the Jewish quarter. Since we were there in the afternoon the crowds at the wall were small and I had several good conversations about the history of the Western Wall with students (and got a blessing from one of those random beggars who was not happy with a non-paper “gift”).

We then did a tour of the Temple Tunnel, something I have not done for several years. Quite a bit has changed, especially in the first part of the tour (including a a new synagogue and several nice stairways. The tunnel follows the Western Wall underground for about 1500 feet. There are a number of places with first century paving stones and at least one spot that dates to the Hasmonean period.

The exit to the tunnels is across from the Church of the Flagellation, the traditional site where Jesus was flogged by the Romans; it is the second station of the cross on the Via Dolorosa. We walked past many of the other stations to the Church of Holy Sepulcher. Our guide took in the “back way” (which sounded sneakier than it really was). We basically avoided the crowd by cutting through the Ethioptic church to enter the plaza in front of the church. The Church of Holy Sepulcher is really a collection of churches and chapels on the traditional site of Golgotha and Jesus’s tomb. I took some of the students to Golgotha and had a good discussion of the value of traditions which support the site (some are very good, others are very weak). The line to enter the actual tomb of Jesus was very long so I took the students into the Syrian Chapel. There are usually very few people in the Syrian chapel, but there are two first century tombs in the back of the chapel which are good illustrations of the tomb people are waiting an hour or more to enter.

Se ended the day by walking through the Muslim Quarter to the Damascus Gate and up to the Garden Tomb. As always, this is simply a lovely spot to read the story of the resurrection and reflect on Jesus’s death and burial. It is irenic, especially when compared to the Holy Sepulcher. All things considered, the Holy Sepulcher has a better claim on being the actual location of the crucifixion and location of Jesus’s tomb, but the Garden Tomb is a much better place to actually worship. After a very nice orientation by the Garden Tomb’s own guide we entered the tomb and then celebrated communion. Since we were the last group of the day, most of the students were able to spend a few minutes privately reading Scripture or praying in the quiet garden.

We have a big day planned tomorrow at the Yad VaShem and the Israel National Museum (the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Jerusalem Model and the archaeological wing of the national museum).

Grace Christian University Tour of Israel and Jordan 2019

For the next two weeks I am leading a (mostly) student group from Grace Christian University on a tour of Israel and Jordan. This is my ninth trip leading a group to Israel, and this time I have 27 students and parents traveling with me.This is a diverse group and I look forward to getting to know the whole group as we travel together. I am doing things a little differently than previous years. First, I am using Tutku Tours for the first time in Israel. I have traveled in Turkey, Greece and Egypt with them and had excellent trips. I have two tours planned with Tutku in 2020, if you are interested in my “Missionary Journeys of Paul” tour in March 2020, check out the brochure on the Tutku website. If you have questions about the 2020 tour, contact me directly via email or a direct message on twitter @plong42

Mount of Olives

Mount of Olives, May 2017

Days one and two are travel from Grace to Chicago, a flight through Frankfurt to Tel Aviv. By Wednesday we will be in the Old City. I include a basic itinerary of the trip here, I plan on posting each day, so check back often  for updates. There is a tab near the top of this page with posts from previous trips and two videos.

Beginning on May 1 we will be in Jerusalem. We start the tour by walking from our hotel to the Garden Tomb, then to the Jaffa Gate and a visit to the Church of Holy Sepulcher. We will be touring the Temple Tunnel, the Western Wall and the Davidson Archaeological Park on the Southern wall of the Temple.

On Thursday May 2 we will spend the morning at the Yad VaShem, the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem We will spend the afternoon at the Israel National Museum to see the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Shrine of the Book, the Jerusalem Model, and the Archaeology Wing of the Museum.

On Friday May 3 we begin on the Mount of Olives, looking across the Kidron Valley. Walking down the Mount we will visit Domiunis Flevit (where Jesus wept over Jerusalem), the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations. We will walk across the Kidron Valley past Absalom’s tomb and up to the City of David and Hezekiah’s tunnel and the pool of Siloam.

On May 4 we heard north to Galilee, driving from Jerusalem to Caesarea, Megiddo, through Nazareth to the Sea of Galilee to finally arrive at Maagan Holiday Village in the late afternoon. On Sunday May 5 Galilee we will start the day at Mount Arbel overlooking the Sea of Galillee and then visit the synagogue at Magdal, the Mount of Beatitudes, Capernaum, and other sites Jesus.

We cross the border to Jordan on May 6 and visit Jerash and Mount Mt. Nebo on our way to Petra. Jerash for a tour of this spectacular Roman city.  Tuesday May 7 we will spend the day at Petra, walking the Suq to the famous Al Khazneh or Treasury at Petra. On Wednesday May 8 we cross back into Israel at Aqaba visiting Eilat for a swim in the Red Sea, then a drive through the Arabah, a visit to Tamar Biblical Park.

Thursday May 9 starts with a visit to the Nabatean trading village Mamshit, Tel Arad, and the highlight of the day, Masada, the famous fortress built by King Herod and the site of the last stand of the Jewish zealots in the first Jewish War against Rome.

On Friday May 10 we will start the day with a swim in the Dead Sea, then on to the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, hiking to the waterfall in Ein Gedi where David hid from King Saul, then a visit at Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. We will finish out the day with some shopping in the Old City in Jerusalem before driving to Tel Aviv for our last night in Israel.

All of these places are important historical and cultural sites, but they also challenge students to think more deeply about the story of the Bible an will encourage them in their walk with God. Plan on following along with our adventures as I post updates Reading Acts each day.

The Garden Tomb

At the Garden Tomb in May 2017